Friday, June 7th, 2024

Marshmello & Kane Brown – Miles on It

They did another thing wrong…

Marshmello & Kane Brown - Miles on It
[Video]
[2.53]

Tim de Reuse: A terrifying peek behind the bro-country event horizon; the whole genre scrunched up like a loaf of Wonder Bread in a hydraulic press. The “guitar” is an alien, glassy thing, kept around out of habit and inertia like a vestigial organ. Marshmello’s instrumental is coherent only if you don’t actually try to pick out a single instrument from the haze. Commodity fetishism finally stripped of pretense, un-sublimated, all metaphor drifting away like diesel fumes, leaving only the genuine desire to achieve orgasm with your dick in a $60,000 luxury pickup.
[1]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: That sounds mad uncomfortable, dude.
[2]

TA Inskeep: I hate this ode to fucking in the back of a pickup for the following reasons: 1) grown men need to stop calling women “girl”; 2) a trad EDM-adjacent boom-bap shouldn’t be all over mainstream country radio; 3) “we could break it in, if you know what I mean” is an utterly icky turn of phrase. 
[0]

Iain Mew: The instrumental is cookin’ on about half a burner, but the bigger problem is an acute case of metaphor backwash. By the time you’re singing “you and me in a truck bed wide like a California King” you’re not using creative ambiguity, you’re just singing about having sex on the back of a truck. From there the “it” easily glides into being about the woman he’s with; read that back into the already weird “these wheels are innocent”, plus “no history and you just can’t fake that” and “let’s put some miles on it” and there’s some gross implications. Basically the song is too easy to read as Kane Brown waggling his eyebrows and saying “hey babe, let’s get together and depreciate your market value”.
[2]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: At least it’s a significant improvement from the last rodeo
[3]

Julian Axelrod: Now this is a song that could use a big Phil Collins drum fill.
[5]

Ian Mathers: This actually feels less ersatz than Brown’s own “I Can Feel It,” but he’s still pretty generic; the real surprise is that Marshmello keeps the boshing relatively restrained, which is a pity. It’s not bad, wouldn’t be mad if I heard it in the wild. But I am also going to take this blurb space to talk about a superior modern country song (and track I missed blurbing when I was inconveniently sick last month), Shaboozey’s superior “A Bar Song (Tipsy)”, which is an easy [10] and makes this feel even more milquetoast than it does in isolation.
[5]

Harlan Talib Ockey: Are there any good EDM/country crossovers? This is just emotionally flaccid grocery-store-core.
[1]

Taylor Alatorre: Justice for Icona Pop.
[3]

Jonathan Bradley: It should be exactly the wrong point in the nostalgia cycle for anyone to be resurrecting the festival EDM meets festival folk of Avicii’s biggest hits… and it is!
[2]

Hannah Jocelyn: One quarter of a single Mississippi and three quarters of “Wake Me Up” — much less leaden than “I Can Feel It,” and so it’s more likable!
[6]

Aaron Bergstrom: I have to assume the new truck is a replacement for the horse they’ve already beaten to death.
[1]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Could not believe when this ended that it did not break the three-minute mark.
[4]

Katherine St. Asaph: This is an awful single that stops trying to be a real song somewhere around the four-“miles on it”-mark. But if you replace everything but the backing track with the hook from “Timber,” it becomes catchy, so sorry, I can’t score it any lower.  
[3]

Nortey Dowuona: “Fuck this movie.” – Sean Burns
[0]

Friday, June 7th, 2024

Ayra Starr ft. Seyi Vibez – Bad Vibes

We mostly vibe with this…

Ayra Starr ft. Seyi Vibez - Bad Vibes
[Video]
[6.78]

Kayla Beardslee: One of the greatest casualties of TSJ pausing coverage in fall 2022 was us not being able to review Ayra Starr’s luminous breakout single “Rush” and give it the [10]s it deserves. Ayra is only 21, but her voice has a depth and wisdom beyond her years that imbues her music with a sense of warmth, purpose, and true star quality. “Bad Vibes” doesn’t match the lofty heights of “Rush,” and I prefer “Commas” among the singles off her new album, but it’s really an embarrassment of riches — I’ve heard a lot of Ayra Starr songs, and not a single one of them has been bad.
[7]

Julian Axelrod: Ayra Starr’s new album The Year I Turned 21 features a stacked guest list typical of any buzzy artist’s sophomore effort, from Asake to Giveon to Coco Jones. So it’s telling that the teaser singles were solo highlight “Commas” and “Bad Vibes,” a collaboration with fellow Afrobeats up-and-comer Seyi Vibez, who has a tenth of his host’s monthly listeners on Spotify. This time, Ayra’s betting on herself: her songwriting, her voice, and her eye for talent. The sidewinding chanted chorus gives the track enough heft to counterbalance its airy vibe. But the backing choir nearly overpowers Ayra’s agile runs, and by the time you get through two spins of the hook and a totally fine Seyi verse, Ayra’s bridge almost feels like a feature on her own song. It’s also the highlight, mixing a weary flow with delightfully oblique turns of phrase (“If something’s coming, I’ll see it through my lashes”) that prove she’s shrewd enough to land a hit without relying on star power. But by the end of the song, I still don’t fully understand Starr’s power.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Somehow more of an Asake track than the one that actually features him, “Bad Vibes” is mostly interesting because of the group chants and melancholy strings. There’s not much underneath all this, which means I’m mostly stuck thinking about how everything that made Asake enthralling has been reduced to pure vibes here, which was also my impression of Seyi Vibez’s album last year. 
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: Ayra’s continued success does prompt me to say that the homie ran background vocals for her on tour, and you should ask for her to do so too. Would’ve been a better use of Seyi Vibez too, tbh.
[8]

Ian Mathers: Both named performers do a fine job, but honestly the whole thing could have been the massed group vocals (yes, including doing the currently solo parts) and I’d be just as happy, if not happier.
[7]

Jonathan Bradley: Ayra Starr brings an American flow to these Nigerian beats, sounding reminiscent of Future or Young Thug as she raps “I’m leading a life that can clean me from my past shit/Burn all this money and leave it in my ashes.” It forms an oddly familiar anchor for a tune that floats otherwise off into a blissful transcendence. The choir massed on the hook resists those who might throw bad vibes; I can’t imagine negativity having any chance of finding a foothold on a beat so liquid, so cleansing.
[8]

Taylor Alatorre: I’ve always found the “good vibes only” type of song to be superfluous at best and nauseating at worst, not least because it points to a trend of younger generations speaking like the marketers who are paid well to capture them (see also phrases like “FOMO” and “life hack,” thankfully neither of which is a pop trope). “Bad Vibes” guards against this tendency by aiming not to conjure positivity out of nothing, but rather to ward off the negative feelings and events that it knows are always skulking nearby. “I need my enemies deceased” sits a bit uneasily next to the multiple appeals for God’s heavenly favor, but Ayra Starr says it with such lightness in her voice that it feels like she’s requesting it as a favor to them. Nothing wrong with raising the stakes of an otherwise inconsequential party song to Old Testament levels.
[7]

Katherine St. Asaph: Well, the title’s half accurate.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Contrary-wise, the vibe here is quite good — especially in the interchange between the chanted, monolithic choir of the hook and the verses, where Ayra Starr and Seyi Vibez deftly trade boasts. They both sound so cool; obviously trying quite hard in the way of early twentysomethings since time immemorial, but here their effort enhances the performance rather than detract from it: by the end, I was fully bought into the experience.
[7]

Friday, June 7th, 2024

Clairo – Sexy to Someone

Sexy to someone, [6]-y to us…

Clairo - Sexy to Someone
[Video]
[6.40]

Katherine St. Asaph: A version of the shut-in femcel dispatch of “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” or Mitski’s “Nobody,” via the chill/listless resignation of Colleen Green’s I Want to Grow Up, Some People” specifically. I imagine the song will resonate with a lot of people, but for me it does nothing. This isn’t a topic you can psychoanalyze without being a colossal jackass; your sexy is not my sexy, and your relationship to feeling “able to pull it off” is not mine, nor fixed forever. But “Sexy to Someone,” as a song, is ostensibly about being wanted but never fully inhabits the idea of wanting. The music expresses low drama and low stakes, and the lyrics are full of hedging and disavowal — sexiness as something one “can’t live without” yet also “just a little thing,” “sometimes,” “nothing more.” It’s as if sexy were a nice little mood-booster like a cool spring day or a sweet platonic text from a friend, but you know, if it doesn’t happen, whatever. That concept is utterly alien to how I experience it. Sexy, to me, is about urgency, about being caught in sudden freefall by a grappling hook of desire and fascination such that the most important thing in that moment is the person pulling you in, and about flinging your own hook down other cliffs to be seized. There are playful variations, lived-in variations, but none that are indifferent. I don’t even think this is an especially unusual stance, but it’s not particularly aligned with the current milieu — c.f., “Everyone Is Beautiful and No One Is Horny” — which is perhaps why newer songs about the topic feel so un-visceral. (I linked three songs; the timeline isn’t perfectly chronological and the genres aren’t totally the same, but notice how each crescendos less than the last.) But the culture isn’t ready for that conversation.
[5]

Hannah Jocelyn: I’ve been mostly indifferent to Clairo up to this point, but I’m not going to mince words: this is an amazing fucking song about the lack of amazing fucking. In my life I often feel loved but not really desired; maybe because I’m an autistic trans woman, maybe I’m just weird and it has nothing to do with my gender identity. This sounds like every time I’ve dressed up nicely to go to a concert and secretly gotten frustrated nobody notices me — yeah yeah, self-love and all that, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to be desired by someone else. What pushes this over has nothing to do with the conceit: I love how she repeats “Sexy to someone is all I really want/sometimes sexy to someone is all I really want”, with the emphasis on seeexxyyyy and then the emphasis on sooommmeeoone. If the whole song was just different phrasings of that one line (“sexy to someone iiiiiisssss all I really want, sexy to someone is aalllllll I really want”) it would be a [10], but the lovely woodwinds and piano nearly get it there anyway.
[9]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: In which Clairo nails the precise emotional intersection of “I’m depressed and can’t leave the house” and “I’m hot and want everyone to validate me.” Her tone is confessional and intimate; her soundscape is playful and cheeky. “Sexy to someone is all I really want,” her inner monologue deadpans. Mission accomplished. 
[9]

Ian Mathers: The vocals are kind of undistinguished, especially at first. Once she locks into the “want to get out of the house” bits towards the end and starts singing more forcefully it works better. Luckily the production is more intriguing, especially those sharp little bursts of sound interrupting every so often. Unfortunately those taper off even as the singing gets stronger, as if we wouldn’t want to risk the whole thing being interesting at once.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Singing in this breathy manner lends this credible yearning for self-respect a coyness it doesn’t need nor can support, but that’s the point too. Self-deprecating because she has no choice, Clairo performs not-being-there with feeling. The filigrees rule: the bass splats, the bits of what sound like distorted woodwinds and piano.
[7]

Taylor Alatorre: I can relate. Not to the song, mind you – carping about some failed Hollywood auditions when you’re a commercially successful rock musician, in the 2020s, will tend to preclude that. But yes, I can relate.
[4]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The lyrics are great, the music not so much. It certainly doesn’t have the charm of the Rostam productions she’s had in the past; the woozy synths and reverberating piano are a smidge too too tidy to capture the semi-listlessness that this wants to embody.
[4]

Jonathan Bradley: It would be missing the point to wish for more from a song this small in intention and idle in its thoughts: the most exciting thing that happens is a coy melody line that appears in the mix like a needle has just been dropped on a gramophone record. Comfortable like a couch with too many cushions and sun-dappled, it lolls in a space that could be lazy or could be anhedonic. “I need a reason to get out of the house,” Clairo muses, but even if she’s at a loose end, her tune is too easygoing to crust over into malaise.
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: “Sexy”: really hard word to fit into a pop song that wants to take itself seriously! This is, of course, part of the point of “Sexy to Someone” — it is easy to convince oneself that the desire to be desired is a frivolous one, and here Clairo turns that questioning of a deep want into grist for the pop mill. It’s thoughtful and fitfully funny and really not very good at all as a song. It recalls a lineage of too-clever chamber poppers, conjuring a burbling mellotron and a loping bassline to convey not much beyond a stately whimsy. It’s restrained to a fault; there’s no closure or rupture, just a gradual fade into nothing much at all. 
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: Clairo is yearning and hungry. She needs a dollar to get some water after she’s found somebody worth of her. 
[10]

Thursday, June 6th, 2024

WILLOW – run!

The first time we’ve covered Willow solo since “20th Century Girl” in 2011!

WILLOW - run!
[Video]
[6.82]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: A phenomenal parlor trick of a song. It begins enjoyably obnoxious from the jump and spends its entire runtime transforming its needling bassline and insistent drums into something even-keeled. The way everything interlocks at the end is the direct result of Willow’s vocals — she was always the ringleader. There’s even a moment that has the unfurling beauty of Steve Reich’s minimalism. It’s apt; there’s so much joy in hearing the real-time transformations here.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: Asher Bank, the drummer on this song, has the most difficult job: he has to recede for the vocals to take center stage, emerge in order to provide sharp transitions, settle into a smooth groove for the pre-chorus, then carefully carry the outro. More difficult yet, he leans heavily on the kick/snare/kick/kick/kick/snare pattern, largely keeping the hi-hats on a straight, flat drone with no wild tom runs or heavy drum fills to provide flavor. He stays in the pocket for drum engineer Zach Brown to keep him at a low level for Chris Greatti — handler of piano/bass/acoustic guitar too!!? — to record. Then Mitch McCarthy quiets the hi-hats and buries them in the mix, letting the kick and snare take starring roles next to the bass as the electric guitar and Willow’s vocals drift high over them, rounded off and cocooned with reverb. Willow’s voice is a helpless, frightened cry until she settles into her deeper, lower register as the drums pause, rush back toward the front of the mix, then slowly thump into the last bars of the outro, only the kicks heard. All in all, fine job by Bank. Willow sounds great too.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Listening to “run!” blind I’d have assumed HAIM or somebody were responsible for the freakout-in-real-time vocal. The wonder is drummer Asher Bank, whose unpredictable patterns recall similar work on Fetch the Bolt Cutters. The star is Willow, whose performance complements the rhythm.
[8]

Jonathan Bradley: Willow’s anxious shrieks and paranoid gasps demand stronger accompaniment than one and a half post-punk basslines and an admittedly satisfying clattery drum kit.
[5]

Dave Moore: In the past few years Willow has quietly become the most incredible pop artist that you are begging to hear in a language you don’t speak. But, much to my own surprise, I couldn’t care less about the dippy poetry and therapyspeak — the right syllables always seem stick to the right melodies and assemble themselves into the right songs. She’s a genius. 
[7]

Katherine St. Asaph: Willow’s A-list family has, maybe paradoxically, caused their musical career to fall into relative obscurity compared to pop‘s A-list; casual listeners and jaded industry types have seemingly written her music off as nepo stuff that’s safe to ignore. Which is a shame, because they’re making more ambitious music, more deserving of being called “artpop,” than many of the up-and-coming artists marketed in their stead. “Run!” is striking and angsty in a way that shares more in common with ’90s singer-songwriters than ’20s nu-pop-punkers. There are places in Willow’s vocal where I would believe that someone spliced in a Tori Amos sample instead — the inflections can be uncannily similar. (Well, OK, half the time who I actually hear is Charlotte Martin; close enough.) Docked a point for the outro, which is the sort of indulgent meandering that the doubters probably expected.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: As with many of the great stars of alternative rock through the decades, it’s hard to separate the craft from the shtick here. This annoys me in the nervy first half and still doesn’t quite land itself in the repeated phrases of the spacier second half, but I can’t help but be charmed by the song taken as a whole. To take big swings and fail interestingly is always more valorous than to just muddle through.
[6]

Taylor Alatorre: Saves the Day had In Reverie, the Get Up Kids had On a Wire, Panic! had Pretty. Odd., and Willow has empathogen. Once you have chosen the path of the Emo Girl, there’s no going back; record your self-consciously mature and classicist follow-up album, or perish. This is of course an oversimplification, since not even the sellout-iest of emo bands has a career path remotely comparable to Willow’s. “I can’t get out” is an appropriate grievance for someone with her profile, whether it’s stemming from generalized anxiety disorder or the fact that “Whip My Hair” remains her highest-charting hit. Even while Willow is re-enacting a nervous breakdown, she’s still the diligent aesthete, arranging her yelps and squawks in a painterly manner between the gaps in the skittering percussion. Then she suddenly realizes that the song’s halfway over and she hasn’t said the title yet, prompting a vision of escape that sounds like an extended cut of a sensitive Blink-182 bridge. It’s pedestrian, it’s predictable after 5 seconds, and it’s still evocative enough to make me want to re-evaluate a certain therapeutic mantra. “‘Wherever you go, there you are’?” Willow seems to ask. “Actually, dude, I was there, which sucked, and now I am here, which doesn’t suck. Take that, mindfulness.”
[7]

Ian Mathers: I was one of the few positive outliers when we reviewed “Meet Me At Our Spot,” and a lot of that was specifically Willow’s vocals, so I’m nonplussed that for the first two-thirds here they don’t do much for me at all. Might be the production, because during the last minute’s worth of “runrunrunrunrun” bits the song does sound better to me. But instead of that section feeling like catharsis or fixation or something equally powerful, it just feels like they ran out of ideas. Better luck next time!
[5]

Harlan Talib Ockey: One of my favorite under-discussed trends in music was the blues rock boom of the early 2010s. Alabama Shakes, Gary Clark Jr., Rival Sons, Kaleo, Hanni El Khatib, Blues Pills, Curtis Harding and Sinkane occasionally, Cage the Elephant and Royal Blood arguably. “Run!” is a near-perfect throwback to this era. Even the guitar tone sounds like it’s from The Black Keys’ Turn Blue, and Willow’s vocal delivery owes a debt to Brittany Howard and St. Vincent (who appears on this album). I’m biased toward giving “Run!” a good score simply because that was most of what I listened to as a teenager, but here’s the deciding factor: when Willow starts to drift away from the formula, she expertly dissolves the outro into dreamy exhilaration. 
[8]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Major theater kid vibes (non-pejorative). 
[8]

Thursday, June 6th, 2024

aespa – Supernova

Not exactly dying stars…

aespa - Supernova
[Video]
[6.83]

Anna Katrina Lockwood: Aespa aren’t rookies anymore, and that comes across. “Supernova” sounds like it could be a SHINee single from 2008–2013, were it on the Matrix soundtrack; it’s exactly what I’ve been hoping for from Aespa since their debut, and it’s the first time I’ve felt like I really get what they’ve been going for. The synths are scribbly and cosmic simultaneously, and the often lackadaisical vibes of previous releases has been replaced by a maniacal aplomb. There are some shouty bits, as is the current trend, but they’re tempered by that uniquely SM tunefulness. and backed up by the controlled and well-tuned performances. Two of our most familiar and beloved SM-associated songwriters are involved — Kenzie and Dem Jointz — along with Paris Alexa, who as far as I can tell has her first K-pop production credit here. I would strongly encourage the powers that be at SM to keep working with her! 
[9]

Jonathan Bradley: It should be exactly the wrong point in the nostalgia cycle for anyone to be resurrecting the EDM maximalism of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It,” but aespa’s “Supernova” is satisfyingly gigantic. It launches with a bass thud suitable for a blockbuster movie title card and follows it with bristling bass swells that only avoid sounding out of control because it doesn’t seem possible that they might have been controlled in the first place.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: In the SM catalog, you can trace a song like “Supernova” back to f(x)’s “Red Light.” The problem for me is that despite all the fun elements, there’s no sense of release, no actual ecstasy, no goddamn hook. I’m dragged along for the ride, and it’s just the same self-serious melodies and whirring synths we’ve come to expect. The epicness is tiresome.
[3]

Iain Mew: The bass noises revving up like an incomprehensible machine and the group strutting forward with purpose keep everything through to the first post-chorus escalating perfectly. From there they add a lot of stuff that ought to work as thrilling expansions, not least the gorgeous digital rain of synths, but the switch is a bit too hard, too fast. The song loses something without the single-mindedness.
[6]

Taylor Alatorre: The smile that crept across my face when the bass-heavy rap breakdown got flipped into a “Planet Rock” sample — sometimes life’s simple pleasures really are all you need. Aside from that moment of dimension-hopping, “Supernova” is fully content to play around in the expansive yet finite limits that it sets for itself, guided only by its mission to recreate the scintillating highs of K-pop’s second generation while avoiding the chintzier pratfalls. There’s no attempt at transcendence here, and if any shedding of old identities has occurred, it’s evident only in the external branding. But why let that stop you from enjoying the way Ningning punches her way through “bring the light of a dying star” as she crests the wave of that brain-tickling synth line?
[8]

Ian Mathers: Finally, a song using supernova imagery that actually understands that a supernova is a dying star (to the point of explicitly calling it out in the lyrics). Would love if this were even more crunchy and compressed throughout (you know, really lean into it, like the way the vocal processing sometimes goes a bit wild on “nova”), but this is solid.
[7]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: The conceit is frustratingly, exhaustingly executed—intense and bold and shiny but devoid of fun. It’s not a good thing when I have to check whether will.i.am is involved in the production. 
[5]

Alfred Soto: Combining Femme Fatale-era Britney Spears elastic electro-boogie and the best of Destiny’s Child, “Supernova” fucks with time and space with its bass line alone: the girls could tesseract with it. The illustrative lyrics matter just enough. 
[8]

Mark Sinker: Songs about space and robots are always better than songs about love or sex — wait it’s about sex isn’t  
[9]

Katherine St. Asaph: Adds some playfulness and sonic variation to the long-lost, much-mourned-by-me 2010-11 pop formula — “Blow,” “Till the World Ends,” “Bad Romance” — without sacrificing any of the electrogoth maximalism, nor any tension or explosion. I miss when pop music sounded like this.
[9]

Nortey Dowuona: I’m just here so Dem Joints won’t get fined. (Marshawn Lynch voice.) Also Lance Taylor need to stay his freaky ass inside.
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Went from a standard piece of aespan shock-and-awe pop to something altogether sillier and more glorious the second that “Planet Rock”/”Trans-Europe Express” break comes in — as TSJ’s longest-tenured aespa defender I feel so vindicated that they’ve finally figured how to make ten perfectly ridiculous seconds of pop music that they’ve always deserved.
[8]

Thursday, June 6th, 2024

Post Malone ft. Morgan Wallen – I Had Some Help

You’ve heard of post-punk and post-hardcore; here’s post-wallen…

Post Malone ft. Morgan Wallen - I Had Some Help
[Video]
[4.00]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Chipper and catchy, the ideal PSA for male friendships based in toxic masculinity. Can’t wait for “Teamwork makes the dreamwork/Hell, I had some help” to play at the cookout before the next insurrection while the bros believe in their hearts that they’re the good guys! 
[3]

Aaron Bergstrom: The “Blurred Lines” copyright lawsuit was a net negative for music as a whole. It was a cynical cash-grab, it was incorrectly decided, and it set a dangerous precedent for artistic freedom. On the other hand, it’s not like people were lining up to defend that song, and there was a pleasant hit of schadenfreude in seeing a lowest-common-denominator vehicle for smug misogyny get its comeuppance, even if it was for the wrong reasons. So, all of that said, on the matter of “I Had Some Help”: I’m not saying Tom Petty‘s estate should get involved here, but I’m not not saying that, either.
[2]

Alfred Soto: I can’t argue with the confidence of the verses — that’s how you drawl, kids — and I admire the hint of ambiguity. Morgan Wallen’s recorded enough songs in which he can’t remember what he said and did before he passed out, what he’s going to drink to help him recover from passing out, and the consequences of passing out too many nights a week; I can hear “I Had Some Help” directed at a buddy who let him down as much as at a woman, especially since in the male-male duet tradition he and Post Malone look like they wanna cootchie-cootchie-cool each other in the video. I don’t need to hear it again, though it’s not like Top 40 radio’s helping. Sure hope Martha-Ann and Sam Alito spot the upside American flag in the video.
[6]

Katherine St. Asaph: A breakup postmortem presented as an Am I The Asshole post that — like many Am I The Asshole posts —  is noticeably vague about the specifics of the breakup, about what exactly “all the shit she did” was and how it supposedly counterbalances whatever shit he did. This isn’t meant as moral indignation — the song might well be better if it were more clearly an asshole’s POV (and certainly more believable from Morgan Wallen). It’s just hard to have an emotional response given nothing solid to respond to; the music certainly isn’t contributing much there.
[4]

Scott Mildenhall: How would America have felt if, on embracing DHT’s “Listen to Your Heart”, it had been rewarded with the lesser half of Clubland 4: The Night of Your Life? Delighted, if it had any sense — wait til you meet Jurgen Vries! — but you have to take things step by step. Hitting the rest of the world straight with this bottom-of-the-barrel bottom-of-a-bottle country is likewise something of a liberty. If it wasn’t for the familiar throat frog of Malone, it would be the kind of wallpaper you can only buy at Home Depot.
[4]

Jonathan Bradley: There are engaging stories to tell about two people who take one another to worse places than they could reach alone — John Darnielle has produced an entire song cycle demonstrating as much — but Morgs and Posty speak in such non-specific and evasive terms (count the clichés: throwing stones at glass houses, fucking “teamwork makes the dreamwork”) that I can’t trust them about the source of the toxicity in this relationship. That could well be the basis for a compelling dramatic irony, but it would also require a much nastier song than this breezy Tom Petty facsimile of an arrangement could tolerate.
[4]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Real poptimism has never been tried; if it had, there’d be reams of essays about this track, a true mega-hit floating above all the various pop conversation objects of the late spring. Instead, nothing. No reflections on the grand symbolism of this link-up, no canny narrativization of the continued Post Malone country-turn, no long-form exegesis on Morgan Wallen’s fraught relationship with rap music and his own proclivity for racial slurs, no pondering of the state of the charts. We’ve got a paragraph in the New York Times, a third of a Chris Molanphy article, a anti-Post jeremiad in Saving Country Music, and not much else. This ought to be the “WAP” of dryness, a discourse schelling point, but the commentariat has fallen silent. The obvious conclusion here is that there’s nothing to say about “I Had Some Help” — that I’ve written 120 words of this review without talking about the song perhaps serves as useful corroboration. But that’s not quite right; “I Had Some Help,” like every one of the great blank chart-topping colossi that these two men have been responsible for, is full of interesting little details if you listen to it enough times— that little “Help!” yelped after the chorus, the surprisingly delicate mandolin and fiddle interplay on the bridge, the way that the two vocalists reach towards harmonies they can’t quite nail by the last chorus. Do these details add together to anything of worth? God, no. Perhaps the most intriguing thing is comparing their two approaches as singers — Wallen continues his honking reign of terror, bulldozing those melodies and sounding less like the charming rascal the song wants him to be and more like your best friend’s worst boyfriend, but Malone sounds more pitiful and beautiful, leaning on the fucked-up choir-boy warble that has always lent his music a certain pathos. I’d like this more if he didn’t have the help.
[3]

Ian Mathers: Two great tastes that taste great together!
[0]

Taylor Alatorre: Rest easy, reader: our beloved Posty has not gone full Rock n Roll Jesus just yet. What he and Wallen have done is inadvertently craft an anthem that better taps into the mindset of post-Cold War conservatism than any tryhard harangue by the likes of Kid Rock or Jason Aldean. The duo breeze through the nominal relationship angst with such airy detachment that the song’s pretext easily outstrips the text: this is little more than an excuse to bring together two imperial-era megastars and have them act out their dented masculine stoicism at the altar of Tom Petty. And wouldn’t you know it, each of them happens to be repping a different red state milieu: Post from the affluent North Texas suburb that trended blue so much it had to be redistricted, and Wallen from the rural Tennessee outpost that was side-eying Democrats even before the Civil Rights Act. The result is less musical fusion and more Buckleyite fusionism, with each artist giving up a bit of their distinctiveness so the partnership can coalesce as smoothly and inevitably as possible. This might be a complaint if it didn’t end up sounding exactly as seamless as intended, barring some tin-eared Wallenisms like “us a-crumblin’.” Everything else is built along a frictionless straight-line path that offers little opportunity for resistance, which is fitting for a song that’s essentially about passing one’s agency into the hands of another. Post and Wallen want to take us along for a ride in which they too are being taken along by someone, or more specifically dragged under. “Help!” they numbingly shout at us from some unseen subterranean place, sounding at first like punctuation and only over time registering as desperation. There’s a hard-to-explain thrill in watching these avatars of white America willingly make themselves into the subaltern for a few minutes, bemoaning their limited range of choices under the accumulated weight of history. Personal responsibility is an overrated concept, they imply — finally, some bipartisanship! On the one hand, “I Had Some Help” is the cri de coeur of the anti-anti-Trump voter, the kind who has little use for the man except as a corrective lesson, a Mandate of Heaven against the haughty overreaches of the liberal elite. In Swiftie terms, it’s “Look What You Made Me Do” for people who either write for National Review or drive lifted trucks. On the other hand, whataboutism is all-American fun; that’s why Both Sides Do It™. “You blame me, and baby, I blame you” — himbo insight, maybe, but ain’t that really the truth, in a century where politics on all sides is less and less about improving material outcomes, and more and more about the proper rationing of sympathy and apportionment of blame?  A nation of stadium crowds, 30,000 apiece, all screaming along to a jaunty country rocker about the joys of denying one’s own free will — America, what a country! 
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: I cannot deny how propulsive the verses sound here and how much the song suffers when nobody is singing. And just as I’m about to give up on it, the two deliver a bridge that brings it all together. This would go so hard at a wedding — I hope I get to dance to this at one soon.
[6]

Thursday, June 6th, 2024

Kevin Abstract ft. Lil Nas X – Tennessee

You’re the only fivepointsixseven I see…

Kevin Abstract ft. Lil Nas X - Tennessee
[Video]
[5.67]

Julian Axelrod: If you showed me the phrase “Tennessee by Kevin Abstract and Lil Nas X” in 2019, I’d have a pretty clear idea of what it would sound like: a raucous, rowdy take on queer country soaked in tequila and self-conscious irony. But five years and a million stylistic pivots later, it sounds like even these two don’t know what sound they’re trying to achieve. All the humor and charisma of their past work has been drained out in favor of… a limp line about genealogy? Water-logged Devstacks strings? A guest verse that sounds like Lil Nas X is committed to hitting the minimum word count and not a syllable more? I’m all for maturity and artistic evolution, but this feels like a comedic actor taking a dramatic role and begging, nay, daring you to take them seriously. If Kevin’s going to officially release a song from his Coachella set, it should be Sky Ferreira’s cover of “Need You Now.”
[5]

Alfred Soto: We need songs about guys cruising gyms, and BROCKHAMPTON’S ringleader and this decade’s most florid star are the ones for the job. Why does “Tennessee” run out of song in its last minute?
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: Learning that Romil was involved in this little gem is a delight. Quadeca and Devstacks both share credits with him, and there’s loping, bouncy drum programming that bubbles to life as synths swirl to surround Kevin. His still very anonymous tenor struggles to carry the song to life before dropping a haymaker (“I just know that I love being used as long as it makes me feel loved”) and disappearing into a sweeping, bizarro-world version of Frank. Lil Nas sweeps in to remind Kevin that the latter is like Kool G Rap, and just like in that fantastic video where the young Big Nas and the elder Kool G trade bars, the young’n has the better verse and the better career prospect. Kevin better get used to playing the back — it’s one role he plays well.
[7]

Katherine St. Asaph: I guess we don’t currently have Frank Ocean at home.
[4]

Jonathan Bradley: The synth storm overwhelms both rappers, both of whose presence is more agreeable than memorable. That’s particularly concerning in the case of Lil Nas X, whom I didn’t even notice on the track until my third listen or so. He’s never been a rapper who brings actual bars to a track, but he’s usually good for spectacle. Here’s he’s overshadowed by Kevin Abstract’s Dune puns.
[5]

Aaron Bergstrom: Kevin Abstract loves it that you don’t know your ancestry. Lil Nas X isn’t interested in your old lovers and relations. The past has no meaning here, and to prove it the two artists trade verses over an achingly wistful track that pulls off the neat trick of creating a frozen present moment that seems pre-nostalgic for itself.
[7]

Taylor Alatorre: The strange fetishization of rootlessness makes more sense when you consider that every artist involved here, including the producer Quadeca, is an “internet rapper” in the mostly non-pejorative sense. If Genius is to be believed, even the line “I love my phone, that’s my device” is a reference to an Instagram post by Jane Remover, bringing us to hypercubic levels of Too Online. To be cut off from one’s ancestral past is usually presented as a tragedy, but here it correlates with self-invention, blank slates, the eradication of borders and prejudices and other dusty concepts from the Hacker Manifesto. A fragile kind of utopia, and both performers seem aware of this — those “past lovers and relations” don’t disappear just because we wish them to. Yet the allure of that utopianism has never fully dimmed, as shown by Kevin Abstract’s willingness to lightly debase his own lyricism in order to give himself over to a grander, more spontaneous vision. “Tennessee” doesn’t preach the gospel of cringe as hyperpop and its sister genres do, but it does have a native fluency in cringe, accepting it as the price of entry for communicating to another just who “all of me” really is.
[6]

Ian Mathers: Ever been so mutually horny with someone you get a headrush like the edible just hit? Yeah, it’s nice.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: All of this just to refrain from making a “ten I see” joke? What happened to decency?
[4]

Wednesday, June 5th, 2024

Tems – Love Me JeJe

We’re on her wave right now…

Tems - Love Me JeJe
[Video]
[8.09]

Alfred Soto: Seyi Sodimu’s 1997 “Love Me JeJe” serves as the foundation for this delightful thing, a popiano groover which like many of its best songs doesn’t insist on itself but has a way of insinuating itself. 
[8]

Aaron Bergstrom: Last year, in a conversation for Interview, Kendrick Lamar asked Tems how she avoided being pigeonholed as an artist. In a surprisingly combative response, she took great pains to distance herself from Afrobeats specifically, Nigerian music generally, and everyone telling her that audiences would only accept her if she presented herself and her music in a certain way. (“It’s not that your music is bad, it’s just that it doesn’t fit in Nigeria. Nigerians don’t like this.”) While she tried to spin it as me-against-the-world motivation, I came away from the interview exhausted on her behalf, overwhelmed by the idea that she would always be locked in a battle against forces that would seek to flatten her into a stereotype just because of the place she was born. With all of that as prologue, “Love Me JeJe” is a miracle in its weightlessness. Here is Tems at peace, unquestionably an individual but also unquestionably the product of her environment. Here is Tems effortlessly breathing new life into a familiar Nigerian hit that was originally released when she was two years old. Here is Tems gliding through the streets of Lagos as if floating, as if she came out the other side of her fight for individuality with the confidence that she won’t lose herself. 
[9]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Every Tems single this decade has been a little masterpiece; this is no different. But it is different — this is the most comfortable she’s sounded on record, her performance filled with the little grace notes and playful asides that only come when a singer is in their element. “Damages” and the other singles off For Broken Ears were beautiful showcases for Tems’ voice, but she largely stuck to grand gestures, melodies that spread across the sonic canvas like she was singing arias, gorgeous and lonely. “Love Me JeJe” feels tender in a way that her music never has, a warm and lovely party of a song — nostalgic not just in its invocation of Seyi Sodimu but in its whole feel, those call-and-response vocals and that “Heartbeats”-esque guitar riff invoking an endless succession of warm summer nights. Every note feels like an invitation to the sublime; even just in the way she subtly adjusts the emphasis the last time she calls to her lover, turning a note of devotion into something more flirtatious. The best pop songs we write about here are the ones that are worlds in themselves, self-sustaining systems of sound that seem to unfold further and reveal more to love about them with every listen. “Love Me JeJe” is one of those worlds.
[10]

Julian Axelrod: Until this year, Tems’ voice felt like a rare and incredibly valuable natural resource, meted out over a few sparse EPs and occasionally used to apply a lacquer of prestige to a Marvel soundtrack or an air of gravity to a Future beat. It’s been hard to know the singer through the songs, but “Love Me JeJe” feels like the fullest picture of Tems we’ve heard so far. She sounds looser and freer than ever, but her voice has never sounded richer, whether soaring or scatting or talking shit in the studio. The song is presented as not just a reinterpretation of the Seyi Sodimu song of the same name, but as an homage. And whether this is an act of earnest homage or an attempt to avoid a lawsuit, it’s incredibly charming to hear Tems sing its refrain almost to herself, like it’s been stuck in her head for years. It feels like an act of adaptation that tells you as much about the singer as the song.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: The way Tems sings speaks to me. It’s a modal tone, so comfortable and gentle; her voice floats comfortably in her chest register and feels as if she is talking to you, explaining something very difficult. Tems may arc into little peals and soft whole notes, but she stays in her range, tantalizing and lively, showing the loyalty and tenderness she sings about. On the tail end, she simply jokes: “Why won’t you just open your mouth and say something?” It’s such a gentle rhetorical question, a taunt a lover would say to you as their friend rightfully points out your fraidy-cat tendencies. It’s a simple moment of in-studio banter, and it fits the actual lyrics so smoothly, cresting as soon as it reaches its end, ebbing into the sea.
[10]

Jonathan Bradley: Tems is too chill here for me to call her shuffling West Africans rhythms upbeat, but she lets her words (“I need and I need and I need and I need you more) cascade over one another with a lovely liveliness. “I’m on your wave right now,” she confides, and little flourishes of highlife guitar endorse the intimacy. The convivial call-and-response — “love me tender” — enhances the coziness; “Love Me JeJe” relaxes into the comfort of familiar company.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “I’m on your wave right now” is such a beautiful declaration. Tems sings it with an assurance of what it implies, of an unshakable bond with a future and past. She makes that known with the call-and-response interpolations; it is quietly pleasurable in the way that all in-jokes are when worked into everyday conversation. Those who don’t know the Seyi Sodimu original can still feel its familiarity: it’s the sound of a love that has stood the test of time, that has always felt eternal, that is capable of endless shared memories.
[8]

Ian Mathers: Some love songs are overtly intense (wonderfully or horribly so), but this one succeeds by seeming, if not casual, at least laid back. A low-key ode to sharing a wavelength with someone, with that playful little guitar lick pealing away in the background over rim taps, there’s a confidence and joy practically embedded in the music here that’s infectious.
[8]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Infinite and intimate, tender and timeless, warm and unwavering. Tems’ voice sounds like golden rays of sunshine, and if this summer fulfills its full romantic potential, I’ll come back and change this to a [10].
[8]

Katherine St. Asaph: “Relaxed” and “breezy” are not mutually exclusive with “mid.”
[5]

Will Adams: Simply gorgeous.
[8]

Wednesday, June 5th, 2024

RM – Come Back to Me

Permission to shower?

RM - Come Back to Me
[Video]
[5.17]

Anna Katrina Lockwood: BTS’ thoughtful leader, RM, is actively rejecting the aggressively populist tropes his group has traded in for the past five years or so. “Come Back To Me” is a pretty nice song! Languidly downtempo, minimally arranged, acoustically instrumented — it’s a trope in and of itself how much this song slots in the playbook of the post-boy group redefinition in progress. OHHYUK’s production is the dominant attribute, which is not a bad thing but perhaps not quite what one would expect from a release from a BTS member. RM’s vocals kind of drift on by indistinctly — so, perhaps less of an active rejection of the boy group tropes than a meditation.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: RM takes the typical café-friendly Korean ballad and makes it “respectable,” bringing on OHHYUK and Sunset Rollercoaster’s frontman. The result is something closer to the former’s music but with a faux-deep seriousness (a common problem with BTS solo projects). The switching between English and Korean is fun, highlighting the differences in mood between both languages, but this is a song whose relaxed mood is too manicured and labored over. RM is in the shadow of the 2017 class of KRNB artists who could do this stuff effortlessly, from Rad Museum to 2xxx to offonoff.
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: Apparently Sunset Rollercoaster were in the off-hours playlist. I hope none of my fellow writers who suffered the shocking betrayal of 2022 by Lil Yachty are surprised by this. I was though, so I will close my mouth. Praise Kuo for his fantastic guitar riffs, praise OHHYUK for having the good sense to trust RM to stick to his range so the Melodyning wasn’t v obvious, and condemn Tame Impala for teaching young men my age all over the world the best way to make guitar driven music is to lock it in Logic. 
[10]

Michael Hong: RM assembled some of Asian indie’s biggest — here, he’s got Hyukoh’s OHHYUK and Sunset Rollercoaster’s Tseng Kuo-hung — for an album engineered to sound tasteful. The result feels like a room dressed in the soft lighting and refined fixtures meant to look stylish but never lived-in. Beyond the pleasantness, “Come Back to Me” feels like nothing: a cursory outline of feelings sluggishly pulled together into roll credits that work better closing out the album than they do as a lead single. Even in the case of the former, it still sounds uninspired.
[2]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: There’s a cafe that I go to in my neighborhood fairly often — I’m not a regular or anything, but I know the different baristas and their tastes. There’s a set that lean towards crowdpleasers: Motown, lite-’80s pop, some of the sunnier elements of the Jason Mraz-wave of the 2000s. Some lean more toward the Boygenius-National-Bon Iver constellation, and then a few more opt for even more anonymous choices: piano covers of pop hits, lo-fi beats to study and relax to. “Come Back to Me” is one of the few songs that could slot into any of their playlists, a pleasingly blank object with just enough heavy-handed marks of artistry that it sounds bespoke.
[5]

Ian Mathers: This feels almost aggressively shapeless, and I mean that as a compliment. “I forgot the hour/I don’t want to know about the hour” is pretty much the mood the song both engenders and reflects, and even when it hits a kind of stumbling crescendo, there something appealingly weary and wary about it. It kind of reminds me of Jack Johnson, but for once I don’t mean that as a pejorative.
[7]

Katherine St. Asaph: Drifts perilously close (and the verb here truly is “drifts”) toward a set of sounds I normally don’t love: Post Malone, How to Dress Well, Jack Johnson, “The Lazy Song.” RM alternates between barely trying to sing and trying way, way too hard. Yet while I still don’t love this, I like it well enough. He sounds genuinely introspective, maybe that’s why.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Maybe I’d prefer it in Korean, but I suspect it would sound like Post Malone or something.
[3]

TA Inskeep: So sleepy it feels as if he took some Ambien before recording. I miss the old Rap Monster of “Do You.”
[3]

Will Adams: If you’re willing to put up with the first two minutes of post-coital guitar noodling from your worst college hookup, you’ll be rewarded with four minutes of blazed-out relaxation on a blanket on the quad after finals week is over. Your mileage will vary based on how fondly you recall your college years.
[5]

Mark Sinker: Every time I had this playing while I worked – concentrating, barely even half listening probably – I was loving it, for the mood and the simplicity and the whistling; for the husky lightness at the edge of my attention. And I like that even when you point your thinking listening mind at it, it’s still not much more than a feather dodging your grasp. It doesn’t firm up or settle or clarify, quite the opposite.  
[7]

Jonathan Bradley: At close to a third of the way through these six-and-a-half interminable minutes, RM allows some drums to kick into his dorm room serenade, suggesting he has Anderson .Paak’s stoned beach-soul headiness in mind for “Come Back to Me,” rather than a deliberate attempt to whistle his way into Jack Johnson’s deck chair. “I forgot to shower,” he muses, and I think he’s trying to suggest there’s something filthy about his attempt at funk; he does, after all, pronounce “staying good” as if he hopes listeners might hear “stank good.” Get dressed, dude. Use some deodorant.
[3]

Tuesday, June 4th, 2024

Miranda Lambert – Wranglers

Use promo code “JUKEBOX” at checkout to get 20% off your first pair of jeans…

Miranda Lambert - Wranglers
[Video]
[5.36]

Alfred Soto: She didn’t write a note or a word for this, and I can tell. It’s as if someone typed “Gunpowder and Lead” and “Mama’s Broken Heart” into ChatGPT and out came “Wranglers.” The brawny production hinders: every rote syllable gets punched up.
[4]

Aaron Bergstrom: Miranda Lambert knows her way around a great revenge song, so I have no idea how something as bloodless as “Wranglers” made it past quality control. This sounds like if “Kerosene” was taken over by a hedge fund.
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: Someone needs to get Audra Mae on the record on how long Wranglers take to burn. We would all learn a great deal. I mean, they’re jeans, how long do they — wait.
[10]

Ian Mathers: See, other jeans burn like this [crowd goes “ooooh”] but Wranglers burn like this [crowd loses it, uproarious laughter]. Wranglers be burnin’, amirite folks? [crowd goes absolutely feral with joy, rips up seats, destroys stadium]
[6]

Katherine St. Asaph: As a bar, “Wranglers take forever to burn” sounds badass until you think about it — so you’re what, waiting around your no-good ex’s house for a couple hours watching yourself fail to commit arson? As a piece of maybe-product placement, it’s no “Wrangler butts drive the cowgirls nuts.”
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Just as schlocky as Chris Stapleton’s take on prestige-country RAWK; just as charming, too — you get the sense that Lambert knows she could do a little better than replicating the feel of “The Chain” for the Taylor Sheridan aesthetic universe, but she’s clearly having fun. The drums unfortunately sound like Stadium Arcadium-era Red Hot Chili Peppers, but everything else is gorgeously-wrought in the way that Lambert’s best singles sound: it’s not subtle and brilliant in the way that “Bluebird” or “Vice” were, but even unsubtle Lambert can be an exceedingly good time.
[7]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: The way that the chorus descends — as if engulfed by flames and consumed by vitriol — is satisfying as hell. This one is for your inner pyro. 
[7]

Taylor Alatorre: One of the purposes of a song like “Wranglers,” even if Lambert will deny this, is to demonstrate how much more “real” its performer is than Nashville newcomers like, for instance, Dasha. Which is fine on its own: gatekeeping, in forms both benign and ugly, has been a country tradition since it was still being called “hillbilly music,” and it makes more sense to police the authentic in a genre whose very name embeds it in the soil. Lambert certainly sounds more comfortable tossing around the signifiers of battle-scarred, woman-scorned country than Dasha does — maybe too comfortable, if all the instant “Kerosene” comparisons are any indication. But there’s one fatal flaw that “Wranglers” shares with “Austin,” and it’s the intended wham line in the chorus that serves only to douse the narrative in the cold waters of an anti-climax. Steer your mind away from the familiar abstractions of vengeance and female autonomy, and actually picture what Lambert is asking us to picture here: does a pile of faded blue jeans burning in the desert sun for half an hour longer than expected really sound all that satisfying to observe? Why write a revenge fantasy where it can be assumed that the revenger is impatiently checking her watch every few minutes, waiting for the fantasy to be over already?
[3]

Jonathan Bradley: A far cry from “Kerosene” or “Gunpowder and Lead,” what’s supposed to be a barn-burner turns out to be a damp squib due to a muddy mix that chokes the guitar in indistinct haze, taking Lambert’s own voice with it. Soggy kindling results in little heat and so much smoke you can’t make out much of anything at all.
[4]

Mark Sinker: A pop song is after all no more than a cluster of commodities circulating within a set of interlinked markets — so how is a Brit listener my age (me) still faintly rattled when said song’s burden is a straight-up major brand-name placement? As if that’s somehow not allowed (or anyway not really cricket). Blame the BBC’s straight-up long-term ban on any hint of advertising in anything they broadcast, and the penumbras of ideology beneath and alongside that ban, the smoke and the steel shaping my inner mind: it’s like The Who never Sold Out; like the late Nick Kamen kept his laundrette Levis on to Marvin’s “Grapevine,” like Sigue Sigue Sputnik never sold literal ad-space slots on their first LP (for L’Oréal, EMI, i-D magazine and more); it’s like Run DMC went barefoot. I escaped it enough that Vybz Kartel, Gaza Slim and Popcaan excitedly hymning their nice new furry suede shoes is one of my all-time favourite Jukebox entries. Sadly this is no “Clarks”: after a misleading Morricone lens-flare it slumps quickly into charred serge and claggy ash. No ethical immolation under capitalism!
[5]

Michael Hong: If this is Miranda’s attempt at returning to being the shit-talker and the fire starter, well, it sounds like she’s got her kindling stacked too neatly and forgotten her matchbook at home.
[4]